(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Don't Say "Never", Gene Upshaw

Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight once said that there are two words that you shouldn't use, always and never. We'll, in this link, you'll read that NFL players' union head Gene Upshaw said that his union will never agree to a rookie salary cap because football is a short-career sport.

My response: "sure you would, Gene, under the right circumstances."

And, yes, I have some to suggest. First, most agree that the structure of payments to highly drafted rookies is absurd, especially given the well-documented studies that show that draft status hardly predicts results. Translated, the studies imply that it's foolish to pay huge bucks to high draft picks because there's no correlation between the payments and future performance. Which means that if many rookies are overpaid, there are many veterans who are underpaid. So, if the union is representing all players, it stands to reason that it might want to consider shifting certain income streams around to get more money to proven veterans and have less paid to, especially, the first ten guys drafted in the draft.

Okay, so Upshaw would respond that he's not going to agree to take money away from the top-drafted rookies so as to relieve certain teams of mistakes they made in drafting. But by saying that it's clear he misses the point. First, no one is saying that the top ten draft picks don't deserve some reward for their pre-draft excellence, but should the top pick get $30 million guaranteed when one of the top backs in the league, Brian Westbrook, is relatively underpaid given his production? A good chunk of the money going to the top draft picks could be redistributed to veterans who suffer precisely because the top picks are overpaid. Why shouldn't that happen?

Also, were Upshaw to reject that line of thinking, he should re-consider in light of the fact that if the owners do away with the salary cap, he'll start to care about the overpaying of monies at the top of the draft. The simple reason is that while elite teams will spend like drunken sailors in Bangkok during fleet week, many will not be able to eat their mistakes. So, those draft-day mistakes will get magnified, and deserving players on lesser teams will make even less precisely because of guarantees of (over)payments on draft day. And that means that everyone will lose -- except the offensive tackle that a team hoped would be the next Anthony Munoz but who turned out to be the next Tony Mandarich.

So before you say never to the idea, Mr. Upshaw, think of those in your membership whom high guarantees on draft day penalize -- the unsigned free agent who becomes a five-year starter, the sixth-round pick who makes the Pro Bowl, and the seventh-rounder who plays on his team for ten years. Who, really, then, is looking out for them and making sure that they get the best dollars possible?

Are you always doing that?

Or never?


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